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How to Approach an ACT Passage

How to Approach an ACT Passage

Reading comprehension is question driven. To be successful, you need to be an active reader – quickly consuming a passage’s main ideas and then saving time to locate relevant information within the passage to answer detail-oriented test questions.

It’s more important that you understand the big ideas in a passage than trying to memorize every detail of what you’ve read. Why? Because about 95% of the details in any reading passage will not be tested.

Only a few passage details will appear in Reading Closely questions. Additionally, those details will always be there; they won’t get erased when you finish reading, and you can (and should) always refer back to the passage.

So, if you’re asked why George Washington owned a slave, what Tan said to his mom, or what the author’s tone was in line 74, it is a better use of time to note where the passage talks about different topics so that you can look up any details quickly and accurately. Re-read the relevant text in the passage and then answer the question. If you spend a lot of time trying to remember them, you’re being extremely inefficient.

In fact, there are only three things that you need to take from a first read:

So, if you’re asked why George Washington owned a slave, what Tan said to his mom, or what the author’s tone was in line 74, it is a better use of time to note where the passage talks about different topics so that you can look up any details quickly and accurately. Re-read the relevant text in the passage and then answer the question. If you spend a lot of time trying to remember them, you’re being extremely inefficient.

In fact, there are only three things that you need to take from a first read:

  1. What is the passage talking about - the topic
  2. What is the author’s purpose in writing this passage - primary purpose
  3. Where are the details placed - mental table of contents

For example, just knowing a passage’s primary purpose can usually get you to the right answer on 60% of the SAT Reading Test questions. Therefore, you must figure out the “the topic,” “primary purpose,” and “table of contents” during your initial read.

1. The Topic

The topic is nothing more than the subject of the passage. Usually, the topic is the word or phrase that appears most frequently throughout the passage, either by name or in rephrased form. For example, a computer could also be referred to as “the technology,” “the invention,” or “the machine.”

Example 1 
        Citrus greening, the plague that could wipe out Florida’s $9 billion orange industry, begins with the touch of a jumpy brown bug on a sun-kissed leaf.From there, the bacterial disease incubates in the tree’s roots, then moves back up the trunk in full force, causing nutrient flows to seize up. Leaves turn yellow, and the oranges, deprived of sugars from the leaves, remain green, sour, and hard. Many fall before harvest, brown necrotic flesh ringing failed stems. For the past decade, Florida’s oranges have been literally starving. Since it first appeared in 2005, citrus greening, also known by its Chinese name, huanglongbing, has swept across Florida’s groves like a flood. With no hills to block it, the Asian citrus idyllic the invasive aphid relative that carries the disease has infected nearly every orchard in the state.By one estimate, 80 percent of Florida’s citrus trees are infected and declining. The disease has spread beyond Florida to nearly every orange-growing region in the United States. Despite many generations of breeding by humanity, no citrus plant resists greening; it afflicts lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus species as well. Once a tree is infected, it will die. Yet in a few select Floridian orchards, there are now trees that, thanks to innovative technology,can fight the greening tide.

The references to yellow leaves and green, sour, and hard oranges (orange lines) primarily serve to
A.
describe some effects of citrus greening
B
. point out the consequence of giving plants too many nutrients
C
. suggest that farmers often harvest their crops too early
D.
demonstrate the difficulty of growing crops in a humid climate

Solution:
 The only answer that directly refers to the passage’s topic is A, which is correct. Yes, this is a fairly straight forward question, but understanding the topic lets you jump right to the answer. When defining the topic, try to use no more than a few words (e.g., rise of social media, importance of Venus) and avoid saying things like, “Well, I think that the passage is like talking about xyz...” The former takes almost no time and gives you precisely the information you need; the latter is time-consuming, vague, and often off-topic.

In this passage, the topic (citrus greening) is introduced in the very first sentence. In the remainder of the passage, the topic is only referred to by that name one additional time. It is, however, referred to in other ways: the plague, the bacterial disease, hunaglongbing, and the greening tide. If you have difficulty drawing the connection between the original term and its many variations, you may not understand what the passage is about. Often, when students at AP Guru are asked to identify the topic of this passage, they say: “Ummrn...I think it talks about oranges and stuff” or “it mentions Florida,” or, a bit closer, “diseases.”However, the topic is not, in fact, “diseases.” It is actually one specific disease, namely citrus greening. That fact can become very important if you see a question like this:

2. The Primary Purpose

After the topic, the primary purpose should be the next thing you look for when reading a passage. The primary purpose of a reading is the main idea that the author wants to convey. The primary purpose is an argument that answers the question, “so what?” It tells us why the author thinks the topic is important.

You can use this “formula” to determine the primary purpose: Primary Purpose = Topic + So What?

Sometimes the author will directly state the primary purpose in the passage, most often in the introduction or beginning of the second paragraph, and then again for reiteration in the conclusion. When you find the primary purpose, you should underline it immediately. If the author does not state the primary purpose directly, you should write it yourself.

We cannot state this strongly enough: If you keep the primary purpose in mind, you can often eliminate answer choices simply because they do not make sense in context with the purpose. Even better, you can often identify the correct answer because it is the only choice that relates directly to the primary purpose. In fact, you can often answer nearly 60% of questions directly identifying the primary purpose.

If you practice finding the primary purpose of the passage, the process will eventually become second nature. Try it next time you are attempting to read and comprehend an SAT Reading Test Passage. It’s one of the most straight forward techniques you can adopt to improve your SAT Reading Test score and is proof that it’s sometimes the simple things that end up working the best.

3. Mental Table of Contents

Once you start answering the questions for each passage, you’ll find that most of the time, the proper line numbers and reference points are already provided. However, sometimes, you’ll need to scan through the entire text quickly to find what you need, and the question won’t give you any hint about where the relevant information could be located within the passage.

For example: “Which of the following ISN’T about planktons within the passage?”

Well, shucks. You’re given no line numbers or paragraphs. And now you’re required to go through the entire passage looking for four pieces of information and eliminating the three that are there. This process becomes much easier if you have a mental table of contents, which is basically an idea of where every category and “part” is located within a passage.

  • “Oh, answer A has to do with the structure of the planktons. I remember them talking about the plankton’s structure right here.”
  • “Oh, answer B has to do with food that plankton eat. It is in this paragraph.”

This is why we focus on actively reading a passage at first rather than truly deeply reading it. You don’t need every detail stuck in your head! You should never rely on your memory to answer problems unless the questions have to do with significant themes or overall ideas. For the majority of SAT Reading Test questions, you will need to look back at the passage, find the essential details, and then rip them off.

This is why building the Mental Table of Contents is so important; once you develop this skill, you’ll be able to find the key details necessary to answer each question much more quickly.

That is all well and good, but how should one approach and read an SAT passage? Based on our experience of teaching SAT Reading Test skills to thousands of students, the answer is by following these three methods:

1. Selective Reading

Selective Reading is a potent powerful tool that can increase reading speed and comprehension.

One of the biggest mistakes that students make when reading SAT passages is to assume all sentences are created equal and thus deserve the same attention. When students encounter something they don’t understand, they expect it must be important and spend time re-reading it. And if they still don’t understand it, they read once more. And maybe even third or fourth time. When students finally move on, they’re not only confused and frustrated, but they’ve also lost sight of what the passage is actually about.

What’s more, when most students selectively read a passage, they simply try to read everything faster, and they don’t understand the passage as a result. Because they haven’t focused on the key places indicating the passage’s main ideas and concepts, students are often perplexed when they encounter “big picture” questions that ask them about the passage as a whole.

As a general rule, you should always make sure to carefully read the question introduction and the topic sentence or sentences that introduce a paragraph’s topic. If you recognize that the bulk of the paragraph is simply there to support the main idea of the passage, you have no reason to get lost in details or try to master every bit of content.

For example, consider the following passage:
         European zoos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries incorporated the visual cultures of their animals’ native homes into ornate buildings reflections of their nations’ colonial aspirations. The Berlin Zoo’s ostrich house resembled an Egyptian temple, with large columns flanking the entrance and scenes of ostrich hunts decorating the exterior. Berlin’s elephant enclosure was built in the spirit of a Hindu temple; the home for its giraffes adopted an Islamic architectural style. Zoos in Cologne, Lisbon, Antwerp, and Budapest, among others, created similar exhibits. These zoos were no home for subtlety: The animals they contained were exotic to most visitors; the buildings that did the containing reinforced the sensation.
         You can find similar nods to foreign cultures in some U.S. zoos. The Cincinnati Zoo’s Taj Mahal like elephant house, for example, and its pagoda-like Passenger Pigeon Memorial Hut are both National Historic landmarks. In Animal Attractions: Nature on Display in American Zoos, historian Elizabeth Hanson compares the style of the National Zoo’s Reptile House to that of northern Italy’s Romanesque cathedrals an appropriation that gave the building more than just an appealing look.

Both of these paragraphs are stellar examples of the topic sentence/supporting evidence structure. Each consists of a single topic sentence that explicitly states the main idea of the paragraph, and is followed by specific examples that clearly illustrate the topic sentence’s claim.

The passage should ideally be read as (in the orange font)
          
European zoos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries incorporated the visual cultures of their animals’ native homes into ornate buildings reflections of their nations’ colonial aspirations. The Berlin Zoo’s ostrich house resembled an Egyptian temple, with large columns flanking the entrance and scenes of ostrich hunts decorating the exterior. Berlin’s elephant enclosure was built in the spirit of a Hindu temple; the home for its giraffes adopted an Islamic architectural style. Zoos in Cologne, Lisbon, Antwerp, and Budapest, among others, created similar exhibits. These zoos were no home for subtlety:  The animals they contained were exotic to most visitors; the buildings that did the containing reinforced the sensation. 
            You can find similar nods to foreign cultures in some U.S. zoos. The Cincinnati Zoo’s Taj Mahal like elephant house, for example, and its pagoda-like Passenger Pigeon Memorial Hut are both National Historic landmarks. In Animal Attractions: Nature on Display in American Zoos, historian Elizabeth Hanson compares the style of the National Zoo’s Reptile House to that of northern Italy’s Romanesque cathedrals — an appropriation that gave the building more than just an appealing look.

At this point, you might be thinking that there’s no way you could ever make sense out of anything reading this way. And to be perfectly frank, that might be the case; jumping from key idea to key idea can feel like a very unnatural way to read, and this technique will not work for everyone.

But remember: if you want to improve, you have to be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Reading this way takes practice, and if you spend some time every day practicing, you might be surprised at how quickly you pick it up.

You should also pay attention to significant transitions, strong language, and “interesting” punctuation such as colons, semicolons, and quotation marks. Words and phrases such as “therefore,” “for example,” “however,” “because,” and “in fact” tell you when authors are drawing conclusions, supporting evidence, shifting directions, and emphasising key points.

2. The Art of Summarizing

Have you ever reached the second or even third paragraph of a reading passage and suddenly realized that you had no idea what you had just been reading? Many of our AP Guru students have had this uncomfortable experience at some point. Faced with this type of reading, many people zone out and lose concentration.

Effectively summarising each paragraph is a method used to understand challenging, confusing, or detail-rich technical material, and is a beneficial approach for the SAT Reading Test.

The idea is simple: As you read the passage, pause very briefly at the end of each paragraph, and jot down in the margin a few words as few as possible to summarise that paragraph’s main idea or primary focus. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have created your own quick-reference map of the passage.

It may help you to pretend you’re explaining what you read in the fewest words possible to a 5-year-old kid. All you’re doing here is “summarizing” each paragraph and connecting it to the paragraph before it. In short, you’re connecting the dots. It doesn’t need to be fancy.

A majority of AP Guru students aren’t entirely clear on the difference between describing the content of a passage and summarizing its argument. Describing content is recounting the information presented in the text, often in sequential “first x, then y, and finally z” form, without necessarily distinguishing between main ideas and supporting evidence. Summarizing an argument is identifying the essential point that the author wants to convey and eliminating any unnecessary detail. The goal is not to coverall of the information presented, but rather to recognize the parts of the passage that are most important. As a result, you must be able to separate the larger, more central ideas from the details.

Lets try to effectively summary the below passage:
         Sometime near the end of the Pleistocene, a band of people left northeastern Asia, crossed the Bering land bridge when the sea level was low, entered Alaska and became the first Americans. Since the 1930s, archaeologists have thought these people were members of the Clovis culture. First discovered in New Mexico in the 1930s, the Clovis culture is known for its distinct stone tools, primarily fluted projectile points. For decades, Clovis artefacts were the oldest known in the New World, dating to 13,000 years ago. But in recent years, researchers have found more and more evidence that people were living in North and South America before the Clovis. The most recently confirmed evidence comes from is Washington. During a dig conducted from 1977 to 1979 researchers uncovered a bone projectile point stuck in a mastodon rib. Since then, the age of the find has been debated, but recently anthropologist Michael Waters and his colleagues announced a new radio carbon date for the rib: 13,800 years ago, making it 800 years older than the oldest Clovis artefact. Other pre-Clovis evidence comes from a variety of locations across the New World.

When students are asked to summarize the above passage, they generally state the topic as “the Clovis People.” Or they describe the content like this: “The Clovis people, right? They were, like, the first people who came across the Bering...Oh no, wait, they weren’t actually the first people to come across, it’s just that they thought that those people were first. But, so anyway, those people settled in New Mexico - I think it said like 13,000 years ago? Only now he’s saying that other people were actually there before the Clovis, and then he says something about a mastodon rib and then something about radio carbon dating.”

Notice how long, not to mention how vague,this version is. It doesn’t really distinguish between important and unimportant information; everything gets mushed in together, and frankly it doesn’t make a lot of sense. This summary gives us exactly zero help in terms of figuring out the main idea. It’s a colossal waste of time.

This is not what you want to do.

Effective Summary: New evidence shows the first inhabitants of the Americas were NOT Clovis people.

Notice how this version just hits the big idea and omits the details. All the details. Now notice how this version cuts out absolutely everything in order to focus on the absolute essentials.

It doesn’t even attempt to incorporate any sort of detail beyond the subject of the passage (Clovis People) or the “so what?” (they weren’t the first people in the Americas). We have captured the essential information without wasting any time.

Let’s explain the entire process from start to finish, through an example. History passages are particularly challenging to follow. Consider the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln:

Abraham Lincolns’s The Emancipation Proclamation, Jan 1, 1863
              A Proclamation. Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit: “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognise and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
             “That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”
               Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States.
              And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognise and maintain the freedom of said persons.
              And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages. And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service. And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favour of Almighty God.

Here’s an attempt for all the paragraphs in the above passage:
Paragraph 1:
Executive order
Paragraph 2:
Not Follow Order = rebellion
Paragraph 3:
War on rebelling states
Paragraph 4:
Slaves in rebelling states are free
Paragraph 5:
Slaves do not use violence

Don’t worry if your answers don’t perfectly match; these are just good examples. But see how this works: since you are forced to think of each paragraph, you pick up the relevant important details as you move along the passage and start to see the overall purpose of the passage clearly. Now, let’s try one more, but this time answering questions.

Example 2: This passage on the next page is adapted from “Life History of the Kangaroo Rat: Dipodomys Spectabilis Spectabilis Merriam” originally published in 1922 by the Washington Government Printing Office.
 
       The burrow system, or den, in which spectabilis stores its caches of food materials, has its nest, and remains throughout the hours of daylight, is a complicated labyrinth of tunnels. Ejection of refuse and soil from this retreat builds up the mound frequently referred to.
        These mounds are, as Bailey says, characteristic of the species, and are as unmistakable as muskrat houses or beaver dams, and as carefully planned and built for as definite a purpose—home and shelter. They are, furthermore, the most notable of all kangaroo rat dwelling places. They range in height from 6 inches to approximately 4 feet and from 5 to 15 feet in diameter.
          The mound is built up not only through the cleaning out of chaff and other food refuse, but through extension and modification of the tunnels; old tunnels, entrances, and caches of musty food material are from time to time closed up and others excavated, repair and rebuilding being especially necessary after the collapse of portions of the den as a result of heavy rains or trampling by cattle.
            Ejected material is most commonly simply thrown out fan-wise from the openings, without much apparent effort to add to the height of the mound.

Here’s an attempt for all the paragraphs in the above passage:
Paragraph 1:
burrow = tunnels
Paragraph 2:
mounds = unmistakable
Paragraph 3:
how built
Paragraph 4:
goal ≠ height

Questions 
1. According to the passage, which of the following is the reason kangaroo rats create mounds around their burrows?
A) 
For shelter
B)
To attract mates
C)
To store food
D)
To prevent collapse of the burrow

2. In the third paragraph, the authors indicate that common causes of collapsed kangaroo rat dens include
A) 
excavation of older portions of the den.
B)
 intense rainfall.
C)
 the use of weaker building materials.
D)
larger herd animals’ sleeping habits.

3. According to the passage, why does Bailey call the mounds around kangaroo rat dens “unmistakable”?
A)
 They have a similar structural form to muskrat houses and beaver dams.
B)
They are more easily identified at a distance than other animals’ homes.
C)
They have a distinctive cone shape.
D)
They are large, intentionally built, and a distinguishing trait of kangaroo rat dens.

4. The authors indicate that the kangaroo rat can be found in its den
A)
 only when it returns to store food.
B)
at all times that the sun is up.
C)
during the first five months of its development.
D) at night, when it sleeps.

Solutions

1.
A is the correct answer. Paragraph 1 states the mounds are for “a definite purpose—home and shelter.”
2.
B is the correct answer. The second paragraph states “the collapse of portions of the den as a result of heavy rains.”
3.
D is the correct answer. This is the correct answer. In lines 7-10, we learn that the mounds are“characteristic of the species” (a distinguishing trait), “carefully planned and built” (intentionally built),” and “from 6 inches to approximately 4 feet[in height] and from 5 to 15 feet in diameter” (quite large!).
4.
B is the correct answer. This is the correct answer. Lines 3-4 state that a kangaroo rat’s den is where it “remains throughout the hours of daylight.”

3. The Pivot

Another key strategy is to identify pivots related to the topic.Have you ever had someone break up with you by making a speech that began, “You are really amazing, and I’ve had such a wonderful time with you...” but you can tell that the conversation isn’t going any place good?

Then the person continues, “I really wish you the best in everything that you do, and you’re such a nice person...” and you’re absolutely sure that there’s a “but” about to happen? (As in, “BUT, I’ve met someone else” or “BUT, I just don’t think this can work.”)

SAT passages are like that. Except they’re often about things like sea urchins, not breakups.

Authors can spend a significant portion of a passage discussing ideas with which they do not agree. In fact, the author’s opinion may not emerge until halfway through the passage or later,occasionally not until the conclusion.

So, if you’re reading an SAT passage and all you’re reading is facts, you almost certainly haven’t gotten to the Main Idea yet. While you are reading an SAT passage, a small voice in the back of your mind should be saying something like, “Facts facts facts facts facts! BUT WHAT?!” (Imagine that in a silly voice. Facts facts facts facts facts! The facts are not the main idea - keep looking!)

Most of the pivots will fall into one of these three categories:

  • A Change (Here’s a situation, but now it’s different!)
  • A Twist (Here’s something that seems straightforward but it’s not what you think!)
  • A Judgment Call (Here are two options - I’m going to tell you which one is better!)

The pivots are particularly common in science/social science passages, many of which are organized in terms of the “people used to believe X, but now they believe Y.”   In this structure, the author typically begins by discussing an accepted idea or theory, then, at a certain point, explains why that theory is wrong, and why a new theory the author believes, is correct.

You must read carefully to make sure you do not confuse what the author says other people think with what the author actually thinks.

Words such as ‘but,’ ‘yet,’ and ‘however’ can indicate an author’s point of view. Whenever one of those words appears, you need to pay special attention to it. Not only will it provide important valuable about how the passage is structured, but it will also tell you where in the passage to focus because the author’s opinion will virtually always be stated after that transition.

In the following passage, the author jumps back and forth between discussing his own ideas and other people’s ideas. I have highlighted the lines that represent other's opinions (or opinions the author does not believe) in orange font. The remaining sentences are sentences that the author believes in, including his opinions and supporting background information.

This passage is adapted from “More Isn’t Always Better,”by Harvard Business Review.

          
Marketers assume that the more choices they offer, the more likely customers will be able to find just the right thing. They assume, for instance, that offering 5 styles of jeans instead of two increases the chances that shoppers will find a pair they really like. Nevertheless, research now shows that there can be too much choice; when there is, consumers are less likely to buy anything at all,and if they do buy, they are less satisfied with their selection.
         It all began with jam. In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. Other studies have confirmed this result that more choice is not always better.As the variety of snacks, soft drinks, and beers offered at convenience stores increases, for instance, sales volume and customer satisfaction decrease.Moreover, as the number of retirement investment options available to employees increases, the chance that they will choose any decreases. These studies and others have shown not only that excessive choice can produce “choice paralysis,” but also that it can reduce people’s satisfaction with their decisions, even if they made good ones. My colleagues and I have found that increased choice decreases satisfaction with matters as trivial as ice cream flavors and as significant as jobs.
           These results challenge what we think we know about human nature and the determinants of well-being. Both psychology and business have operated on the assumption that the relationship between choice and well-being is straightforward: The more choices people have the better off the are. In psychology, the benefits of choice have been tied to autonomy and control. In business the benefits of choice have been tied to the benefits of free markets more generally. Added options make no one worse off and their bound to make someone better off.
          Choice is good for us, but it relationship to satisfaction appears to be more complicated than we had assumed. There is diminishing marginal utility in having alternatives; each new option subtracts a little from the feeling of well being, until the marginal benefits of added choice level off. What’s more, psychologists and business academics alike have largely ignored another outcome of choice: More of it requires increased time and effort and can lead to anxiety, regret, excessively high expectations, and self-blame if the choices don’t work out. When the number of available options is small, these costs are negligible, but the costs grow with the number of options. Eventually, each new option makes us feel worse off than we did before. Without a doubt, having more options enables us, most of the time, to achieve better objective outcomes. Again, having 50 styles of jeans as opposed to two increases the likelihood that customers will find a pair that fits. But the subjective outcome may be that shoppers will feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied. This dissociation between objective and subjective results creates a significant challenge for retailers and marketers that look to choice as a way to enhance the perceived value of their goods and services.
            Choice can no longer be used to justify a marketing strategy in and of itself.More isn’t always better, either for the customer or for the retailer. Discovering how much assortment is warranted is a considerable empirical challenge. But companies that get the balance right will be amply rewarded.

Now it’s time to apply what we have learned to examples. For the three below examples, it’s important to compare your topic and primary purpose to what we’ve come up with here.

Sample Passage 1: Rock Flour 
         Although organic agriculture may seem to be the wave of the future, some experts believe that the next stage in agricultural development requires the widespread adoption of something very inorganic: fertiliser made from powdered rocks, also known as “rock flour.” The bio chemical processes of life depend not only on elements commonly associated with living organisms, such as oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon (the fundamental element of organic chemistry), but also on many other elements in the periodic table. Specifically, plants need the so-called “big six” nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium. In modern industrial agriculture, these nutrients are commonly supplied by traditional chemical fertilizers. However, these fertilizers omit trace elements, such as are harvested, the necessary trace elements are not replaced and become depleted in the soil. Eventually, crop yields  diminish, despite the application or even over- application of traditional fertilizers. Rock flour, produced in abundance by quarry and mining operations, may be able to replenish trace elements cheaply and increase crop yields dramatically. Not all rock flour would be suitable for use as fertilizer. Certain chemical elements, such as lead and cadmium, are poisonous to humans; thus, applying rock flour containing significant amounts of such elements to farmland would be inappropriate, even if the crops themselves do not accumulate the poisons, because human contact could result directly or indirectly (e.g., via soil runoff into water, iron, molybdenum, and manganese, that are components of essential plant enzymes and pigments. For instance, the green pigment chlorophyll, which turns sunlight into energy that plants can use, requires iron. As crops supplies). However, most rock flour produced by quarries seems safe for use. After all, glaciers have been creating natural rock flour for thousands of years as they advance and retreat, grinding up the ground underneath. Glacial runoff carries this rock flour into rivers, and downstream, the resulting alluvial deposits are extremely fertile. If the use of man-made rock flour is incorporated into agricultural practices, it may be possible to make open plains as rich as alluvial soils. Such increases in agricultural productivity will be necessary to feed an evermore- crowded world.

The following is the topic and primary purpose you should have come up with:
Topic
: Extol the potential benefits of rock flour.
Primary Purpose:
The next stage in agricultural development requires the widespread adoption of fertilizer made from rock flour
Sample Passage 2: Ether’s Existence 
      In 1887, an ingenious experiment performed by Albert Michelson and Edwar Morley severely undermined classical physics by failing to confirm the existence of “ether,” a ghostly mass less medium that was thought to permeate the universe. This finding had profound results, ultimately paving the way for acceptance of Einstein’s special theory of relativity.Prior to the Michelson-Morley experiment,nineteenth-century physics conceived of light as a wave propagated at constant speed through the ether. The existence of ether was hypothesized in part to explain the transmission of light, which was believed to be impossible through “empty” space. Physical objects, such as planets, were also thought to glide frictionlessly through the unmoving ether. The Michelson-Morley experiment relied on the fact that the Earth, which orbits the Sun, would have to be in motion relative to a fixed ether. Just as a person on a motorcycle experiences a “wind” caused by her own motion relative to the air, the Earth would experience an “ethereal wind” caused by its motion through the ether. Such a wind would affect our measurements of the speed of light. If the speed of light is fixed with respect to the ether, but the earth is moving through the ether, then to an observer on Earth light must appear to move faster in a “downwind” direction than in an “upwind” direction. In 1887 there were no clocks sufficiently precise to detect the speed differences that would result from an ethereal wind. Michelson and Morley surmounted this problem by using the such speed differences. In their apparatus,known as an “interferometer,” a single beam of light is split in half. Mirrors guide each half of the beam along a separate trajectory before ultimately reuniting the two half-beams into a single beam. If one half-beam has moved more slowly than the other, the reunited beams will be out of phase with each other. In other words, peaks of the first half-beam will not coincide exactly with peaks of the second half beam, resulting in an interference pattern in the reunited beam. Michelson and Morley detected only a tiny degree of interference in the reunited light beam far less than what was expected based on the motion of the Earth.

The following is the topic and primary purpose you should have come up with:
Topic:
Experiment that rejects the existence of Ethor
Primary Purpose:
Failure to confirm the existence of ether undermined classical physics and gave rise to new theories
Sample Passage 3: Prescription Errors 
       In Europe, medical prescriptions were historically written in Latin, for many centuries the universal medium of communication among the educated. A prescription for eye drops written in Amsterdam could be filled in Paris, because the abbreviation OS meant “left eye” in both places. With the disappearance of Latin as a lingua franca, however, abbreviations such as OS can easily be confused with AS (“left ear”) or per os (“by mouth”), even by trained professionals. Such misinterpretations of medical instructions can be fatal. In the early 1990s, two infants died in separate but identical tragedies: they were each administered 5 milligrams of morphine, rather than 0.5 milligrams, as the dosage was written without an initial zero. The naked decimal was subsequently misread. The personal and economic costs of misinterpreted medical prescriptions and instructions are hard to quantify. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that misinterpretations are prevalent. While mistakes will always happen in any human endeavor, medical professionals, hospital administrators, and policymakers should continually work to drive the prescription error rate to zero, taking simple corrective steps and also pushing for additional investments. Certain measures are widely agreed upon, even if some are difficult to enforce, given the decentralization of the country’s healthcare system. For instance, the American Medical Association and other professional organizations have publicly advocated against the use of Latin abbreviations and other relics of historical pharmacology. As a result,incidents in which qd (“every day”), qid(“four times a day”), and qod (“every other day”) have been mixed up seem to be on the decline. Other measures have been taken by regulators who oversee potential areas of confusion, such as drug names.  For instance, the FDA asked a manufacturer to change the name of Levoxine, a thyroid medication, to Levoxyl, so that confusion with Lanoxin, a heart failure drug, would be reduced.Likewise, in 1990 the antacid Losec was renamed Prilosec at the FDA’s behest to differentiate it from Lasix, a diuretic. Unfortunately, since 1992 there have been at least a dozen reports of accidental switches between Prilosec and Prozac, an antidepressant. As more drugs reach the market, drug-name “traffic control”will only become more complicated. Other measures are controversialor require significant investment and consensus building. For instance, putting the patient’s condition on the prescription would allow double-checking but also reduce patient privacy; thus, this step continues to be debated. Computerized prescriber order entry (CPOE)systems seem to fix the infamous problem of illegible handwriting, but many CPOE systems permit naked decimals and other dangerous practices. Moreover,since fallible humans must still enter and retrieve the data,any technological fixes must be accompanied by substantial training. Ultimately, a multi-pronged approach is needed to address the issue. 

The following is the topic and primary purpose you should have come up with:
Topic:
Prescription Errors and how can they be eradicated
Primary Purpose:
Prescription error rate should become zero

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